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Charles Hartley

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Sir Charles Hartley (1825-1915)


1915 Obituary [1]

SIR CHARLES AUGUSTUS HARTLEY. K.C.M.G., died in London on the 20th February, 1915, at the advanced age of 90. His life-work is commemorated in the affectionate title by which he will long be remembered on the continent of Europe- 'the Father of the Danube.'

Born at Hedworth, Durham, in 1825, he acquired his early practical experience on railway and mining work in Scotland and harbour work at Plymouth.

In 1855 he joined the Royal Engineers, and served as a captain throughout the Crimean War.

In 1856 the European Commission of the Danube was established by virtue of the Treaty of Paris, with the mission 'to designate and to cause to be executed the works necessary below the Turkish town of Isaktcha, to clear the mouths of the Danube and the neighbouring parts of the sea from the sands and other impediments which obstructed them, so as to put that part of the river and the said parts of the sea in the best possible state for navigation,' and at the age of 31, Charles Hartley was appointed Engineer-in- Chief of the Commission. At that time the depth of the Sulina mouth was generally about 9 feet, and that of the Sulina branch 8 feet, but these depths often fell to 7 feet and under.

After surveying and preparing plans and estimates for the St. George’s and Sulina mouths and branches of the Danube, Hartley presented his reports in October, 1857, and though preference was given to the St. George’s mouth on principle, the Sulina mouth was selected for temporary improvement by the European Commission, for reasons of expediency, so as to give speedy relief to the navigation, by increasing the depth if possible by 2 feet.

The works were started on the 21st April, 1858, and finished on the 31st July, 1861. On the 3rd September the piers were inaugurated, when the depth of the entrance channel was found to be 17 feet. This unexpected and happy result put an end to the question of opening the St. George’s mouth, and the Sulina piers were afterwards consolidated and rendered permanent.

On a petition of the merchants interested and the captains frequenting the river to Her Majesty’s Government, and in recognition of his eminent services and success, Charles Hartley was knighted in 1862.

The depth of the entrance channel was gradually improved to 20 feet by 1872, the improvement of the Sulina branch having been started in 1857 by the construction of river works, the depth was increased to 13 feet by 1872, when Sir Charles was appointed Consulting Engineer. The depth of the entrance channel was 20.5 feet in 1893, when the size of steamers frequenting the Sulina mouth had increased to such an extent that this depth was no more sufficient.

In 1893 Sir Charles proposed to increase the depth to from 23 feet to 24 feet by dredging, and2 4 feet were obtained by the 11th September, 1895. This depth was maintained to 1907, the depth of the Sulina branch having been increased also to 19 feet at low water by the construction of numerous works and cuttings. Steamers of 4,000 net register tons now frequent the Sulina mouth and river Danube regularly and freely, as compared with sailing vessels of up to 400 tons, on a specially low draught, which had to complete in the open roadstead, after having been lightened over every shoal in the river, before the works were started.

In 1907, after 50 years’ service, Sir Charles retired on account of his age of 82, full of honours and greatly regretted. During that period, as the result of his many improvements, the Danube regime has been transformed, its use for navigation enormously increased, and the terrible shipwrecks which gave to the Sulina mouth the name of 'the grave of sailors' have practically ceased. Much of this work is described in Papers contributed by Sir Charles to the Institution Proceedings.

He also contributed Papers on works in the Black Sea, in the United States and Canada, and on the Suez Canal, and frequently took part in discussions at The Institution. For certain of his Papers he was awarded Telford, Watt, and Stephenson medals, and Telford and Crampton premiums. He also received the Albert Gold Medal of the Society of Arts in 1913, in recognition of his eminent public services.

In Asia, Sir Charles Hartley’s advice was sought by the Indian Government in respect of the improvement of the Hugli below Calcutta and of Madras harbour, and in America he was a member of the Board appointed to report on the best means of opening the South Pass of the Mississippi to navigation.

In Africa he was one of the British representatives on the Commission which was established in 1884 to consider the question of widening the Suez Canal, He also reported for the Foreign Office and for other Governments on the navigation of the Scheldt, on the improvement of the port of Odessa, the improvement of the rivers Don and Dnieper, on the port of Trieste and on the harbours of Costanza, Varna and Burgas on the Black Sea.

In 1884 he was created K.C.M.G. Subsequently he was nominated by the British Government as one of the two representatives of Great Britain on the International Technical Commission of the Suez Canal and served continuously on that Commission for 22 years. He retired in 1906, and the British Government, as a mark of their appreciation of his services, presented him with a valuable service of plate inscribed with the Royal Arms, and a record of their satisfaction.

In 1896 Sir Charles Hartley, in conjunction with Sir John Wolfe Barry, was appointed Consulting Engineer to advise the Government of Natal on the external and internal works of improvement then in progress and contemplated at Durban Harbour, which have proved most highly successful, rendering that harbour available for the largest class of vessels. A full account of these very important operations is contained in the Institution Proceedings. They held the above appointment until their resignation in 1905.

Sir Charles Hartley was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 2nd December, 1856, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 1st April, 1862. He served on the Council in 1880 and 1831 and again between 1893 and 1895.



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Sources of Information

  1. 1915 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries